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'One job should be enough': MIA catering workers march for higher wages

Sky Chefs Miami union food workers Bianca Wolf, left, and Niunka Bena, right, want better pay, so they participated in a demonstration Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.
Alie Skowronski askowronski@miamiherald.com
Sky Chefs Miami union food workers Bianca Wolf, left, and Niunka Bena, right, want better pay, so they participated in a demonstration Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.

Dozens of workers who prepare in−flight food and beverages for airlines at Miami International Airport this week marched for higher wages, saying they can’t afford to live in South Florida anymore.

“I’m asking for a salary that’s dignified to see if I can keep going to my doctor and pay for rent,” Martha Cabrera, a cancer survivor and Sky Chef worker for the past eight years, told WLRN. “At least what is needed.”

Just a short distance from the airport on Wednesday afternoon, workers stood in the rain, hoisting signs — “one job should be enough" — to demand hourly wages be raised by their employer, LSG Sky Chefs, from $14 at the lowest end to at least $20 an hour.

A spokesperson for LSG Sky Chefs told WLRN the company is "committed to providing all our employees with competitive pay and benefits."

Cabrera said the health insurance plan her job provides her isn’t enough to cover all her medical expenses, causing her to weigh between going to follow-up cancer treatment appointments and paying rent. She said monthly rent on her one-bedroom apartment recently went up from $1,000 to $1,400.

Wednesday’s march was organized by UNITE HERE Local 355, a union representing nearly 7,000 employees who work at airports, hotels, casinos, stadiums and arenas in the region.

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report including inflation numbers Thursday. It found that some areas of Florida continue experiencing some of the highest inflation rates in the country.

Prices in Tampa were up 6.7% last month compared to a year ago, which is much higher than the national rate of 3.7%. Numbers specific to South Florida will be released next month.

“These workers deserve a wage like everyone else,” Wendi Walsh, UNITE HERE’s secretary-treasurer said. “And it's a tinderbox that’s going to burst if we don’t get workers to be able to pay their rent, buy food, pay their gas, the simple things in life.”

The union says LSG Sky Chefs prepare about two−thirds of all food and beverages on airlines out of Miami International Airport.

The union wants wages comparable to the $20.34 paid to Miami-Dade county workers under the “living wage” ordinance that was passed in 1999. That ordinance set a “living wage” floor, and the exact amount is adjusted annually.

“If they want to come in at $20, fine, I’ll forgo the 34 cents,” Walsh said. “But I actually think they deserve to be equal with every other worker in the Miami airport, and they should keep pace with that living wage. They have the privilege of serving airlines in this airport. It's the county's airport. It's the people's airport.

Under the living wage ordinance, on October 1, wages for county employees and county contractors were raised to a minimum of $16.51 an hour with qualifying health benefits or $20.34 an hour without.

READ MORE: “Miami-Dade Commission Approves Extension of Living Wage Ordinance To Airport Workers”

Only direct county contractors are bound by that ordinance. LSG Sky Chefs told WLRN they only have a lease at the county-owned airport, and that they are not county contractors.

“As of right now, we are only required to follow the Florida State minimum wage,” an LSG spokesperson told WLRN in a statement.

The state minimum wage went up to $12 an hour on Sept. 30. By 2025, the state minimum wage will reach $14, the amount of LSG Sky Chefs workers’ minimum wage.

Sky Chef employees are covered by a Master National Agreement between the company and union under the Railway Labor Act, according to the company. The LSG Group confirmed that the two entities are currently engaged in negotiations with assistance from a federal mediator.

“We are confident we will reach a fair and mutually beneficial agreement as both parties are committed to the well-being of our employees and the sustainability of the organization,” said Dana Gill, a spokesperson for LSG Group in a written statement via email to WLRN.

LSG Sky Chefs is part of Germany−based LSG Group, a global company operating in 131 locations in 49 countries, with more than 18,000 employees. Last year, the company reportedalmost €2 billion ($2.1 billion) in revenues.

The union’s last contract with Sky Chefs expired in 2016, according to UNITE HERE Local 355. For nearly a decade, workers have been operating under the expired contract, and bargaining for a new contract has been ongoing since then.

“All (workers) want is for Sky Chefs to step up to the plate, like many other employers in South Florida have done, and voluntarily pay the living wage,” Walsh said. “I think basic humanity shouldn't be required. It should be done voluntarily.”

Julia Cooper reports on all things Florida Keys and South Dade for WLRN.
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